I Am The Lord's Servant: How The Christmas Story Helped Me Embrace My Fragile Little Girl

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"I am the Lord's servant... may your word to me be fulfilled."

During the Christmas season I focus much of my attention on the holy family, Mary in particular.

Of all Biblical characters God chose to use, she is one of the few who did not argue with God when He called her to do the improbable.

As a younger woman I often wondered what I would have done if faced with such a decision. Would I have had the fortitude to say yes to such an intimate encounter with God, knowing it could be dangerous for me? In Mary's time an illegitimate child would be considered the product of an adulterous affair. If I were in her position, would I be able to trust in God.... when the penalty for adultery was death? Would I be able to properly care for a child when the child in question possessed such significance and promised a drastic reordering of the world, as I knew it? Would I be able to answer the queries of those around me, who may question my maternity and who would gossip and create controversy when my child was born?

In the spring of 2010 I was given the opportunity to contemplate these questions a bit more deeply, when my unborn daughter was diagnosed with a lethal birth defect, and I faced serious risk continuing the pregnancy. In my unenviable position I chose life for my child, in essence stating, 

"I am the Lord's servant... may your word to me be fulfilled."

I may not have been as eloquent as Mary, but the sentiment was the same: give me what you will, Lord, and I will trust your goodness to carry me through.

Mary's acceptance of her situation is the ultimate example of trusting in God's grace during a troubling time. Choosing to continue a pregnancy during unusual circumstances, such as when a medical issue arises or a baby is conceived during a sexual assault, is also an example of trusting God and His plan for us -- even though it may seem as if our circumstances are evidence of an unloving Master, at the time. Like Mary, those of us facing unimaginable maternities find ourselves in situations we didn't plan on -- situations which could put us in danger, may cause censure from friends and family, and will ultimately cause us a great deal of heartache.

My daughter was no exception to that rule: from the beginning we had doctors, family, and friends who felt it was necessary to share their views on abortion with us. When we tried to explain our point of view, we were shut down. They didn't seem to understand why we would do this. Her existence was problematic for them, because our diagnosis didn't fit into what they believed a "good ending" should consist of. I imagine there were those who whispered behind Mary's back, commenting on her shortened pregnancy. It is also likely that Joseph took counsel from family and friends he trusted to help make sense of what was happening- note, the angel only came to reassure him of Mary's fidelity after he had already made the decision to divorce her. I'm sure their ending wasn't a "good ending" as far as many of their friends and family were concerned.

When I found myself facing a complicated pregnancy, like {but so unlike} the pregnancy Mary faced so long ago, I understood I was being given the gift of a child who could cause controversy just because she existed.

After our initial diagnosis, as the spring turned into fall, and then winter, I began to intentionally contemplate the story of Mary, accepting her child unconditionally and leaning on God's grace in what was most likely an anxious time. The timing of my pregnancy led me straight into renewed interest in the Bethlehem narrative. I would be giving birth to my fragile baby, who was due in January, just after the height of the Christmas season. A time in which we commemorate hope for a broken world would be the setting for my hopeless, broken heart. I arranged my nativity while listening to Christmas music, and thought about the life Mary had chosen for herself. The lyrics to "Mary Did You Know?" ** brought me to a place of deep sadness. I reflected on what Mary did or did not know about the baby she carried. I knew my child would die. And while Mary had the comfort of believing her Son was the promised Messiah, she couldn't have been ignorant of the political danger He would be in, should anyone find out He was the promised One. I imagine it was only her trust in God's faithfulness which carried her.

It turned out that the correlation with the Christmas narrative would be more relevant for me than I had expected. I unexpectedly went into labor the second week of December. It was six weeks before my Beatrix was due and I was unprepared. It took over an hour for my husband and I to drive to the hospital. During that time I was in pain, unable to find a comfortable sitting posture in our truck. In labor, willing myself not to understand the situation for what it was: our baby was coming, and she would die. I was consumed with fear of what the future held.

On the first, early Christmas morning as Mary prepared to birth Jesus, I'm sure she felt the same trepidation. What would her future hold? This was a king she was delivering. The promised Messiah, whom her people had waited generations for. He was a promised savior, the man who would save her people. The greatest among men. As a human being, her faithfulness may have been shadowed by some hint of fright- both for him and for herself.

I wouldn't presume to make a comparison in regards to the importance of my Beatrix in relation to the importance of Mary's baby. She held the salvation of the world in her body.... my own body held a poor, broken baby girl who would save no one. But Mary's willingness to accept her child as a gift from God was a focal point to me during a very difficult time. We can look towards biblical figures to acclimate ourselves to living in this fallen world, while being children of a perfect God -- and in this instance, Mary's experience was the most applicable.

Delivering my daughter was the most difficult experience I have ever had. There were portions of the process which seemed as if they were not reality. By the time she was born it was early morning, when I should have been sleeping, instead I was exhausted and by the time Beatrix was in my arms I didn't know how much longer I would last.

When Mary was laboring, there were most likely portions of the process where she also felt she could not go on. Laboring a baby in unfamiliar surroundings isn't optimal. Delivering a baby in a public place must have been horrifying to a sheltered young girl from a good family. While there are many legends of this particular birth, we have very little knowledge of what transpired, whether she labored easily or was in prolonged suffering. We have no knowledge of whether she had attendants or was truly alone with her spouse. It must have been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.... But ultimately her trust in God would have soothed her.

When we were finally ready for her to come, delivery of my Beatrix was fast. Because her defects required me to have a cesarean section, there were no labor pains once the process started. Modern medicine assured me a safe delivery, and once my daughter was out they rushed her for evaluation. Before letting her go we needed to be assured she could not live. It was confirmed she would not live, after almost an hour of intense care by a team of top-flight physicians.

We were as far from a manger birth as you could get.

After delivery, as Mary looked down on her child's sweet face, I would like to believe she just saw her tiny boy. When she held Him, I'm certain the marvel of her encounter with the angel paled in comparison to her encounter with this newly born child. When the pain of birth faded, I'm sure she held Him in her arms and marveled over all of his small, exquisite parts. She was well rewarded for her faithfulness. Her child was here- and before he would ever be king, he was the boy who had grown in her own body- flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone.

And this is where our stories meet: all of the grief of knowing my daughter would die disappeared in the time we were given her. She ceased to become a beacon for political abortion ideology and instead became my baby. I looked into her tiny eyes and saw my daughter -- not a medical diagnosis, not a dying child, just the baby I had waited so many months for. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.

The reward of the Christmas story was brought home to me six years ago, when I held my daughter after such a time of uncertainty. While I could never presume to claim even an iota of equality with Mary, I looked to her as a guide for how to deal with the unexpected child I held in my arms. I accepted my daughter with little reservation, remembering the Other child who had been accepted with little reservation. I protected my daughter knowing I was allowing myself to suffer the grief of potentially losing her- knowing she was not truly mine to begin with. I loved her unreservedly, influenced by Mary's choice: the choice to allow God to use her for His salvation plan.

Because of the first Christmas story, the story of the birth of Mary's Son, my trust in God was complete.

Because I understood God's goodness sometimes comes under the guise of frailty, I was able to accept the gift of this child who was broken and would not survive.

I understood that the manifestation of sin could very well be evidenced in the newborn child -- but because of Mary's Son, I also understood the manifestation of grace could be as well, and that made all the difference.

** I understand there is a difference of opinion regarding what and when, exactly, Mary knew about Jesus. While I believe she knew exactly what she was being called to do, and who her son was, this has been a hotly contested issue, and this song can be a touchstone for theological debate. My only intent was to frame the context to my story: how I used the Christmas narrative, and Mary's acquiescence and ponderings, to help me through a difficult pregnancy.

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